BEN PROUD admitted it felt ‘surreal’ to have become the first person ever to win the World, European and Commonwealth 50m freestyle titles in the same year.
The former Plymouth College swimmer completed the unique triple on Wednesday evening in the final session of swimming action at the European Championships in Rome.
Proud managed to just touch first in the ‘splash-and-dash’ final at the iconic Foro Italico pool, clocking 21.53 seconds to complete a summer of dominance.
The 27-year-old’s dream season came after frustration at last year’s Olympic Games where he had to settle for fifth place in the 50m freestyle final, having also just missed out on a medal in Rio in 2016.
“To be standing here with a third gold medal round my neck, it’s a surreal feeling because the last 12 months have been exceptional and I’m just very, very grateful for everything that has happened this year,” said Proud.
Proud said after winning the World Championships in Budapest in June he realised then that he wanted to try and complete the full set of golds.
“These are very strange circumstances, because three months ago I was coming to life, overcoming some problems from earlier this year and post-Olympics,” he said. “Then I got to Worlds and walked into that gold medal, and it was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down, I had this opportunity to come and win these back-to-back meets.
“The body was in form and I was in a good place, mentally and physically, thanks to my coaches and we thought, ‘why not?!’
“But I tell you what, it just makes me respect the people who do this year round, because to retain your titles time after time is a hell of a job, physically, mentally, it’s really tough.
“So all credit goes to Adam Peaty and Caeleb Dressel – the people who stand up on the blocks and can perform back-to-back all these times. Because for me, just to do it three times over two months, it was tough. But I am super grateful for everyone who has been around this year and who has brought me to this point.
Proud’s win was followed by his former Plymouth College and Leander team-mate Ruta Meilutyte claiming gold in the women’s 50m breaststroke final as she continues her impressive comeback.
Meilutyte, the 2012 Olympic 100m breaststroke champion, had also won the World Championship 50m title in June after returning to swimming after more than three years out of the sport.
But there was disappointment for another former Plymouth College pupil Laura Stephens, who just missed out on a medal in the women’s 200m butterfly event.
University of Plymouth graduate Stephen, who had won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games, finished fourth.
Meanwhile, Plymouth high divers Aidan Heslop and Owen Weymouth will open their European Championship campaign on Thursday in Rome.